Atlanta Falcons: 30 greatest players in franchise history
- Atlanta Falcons Ring of Honor (2004)
- NFL All-Decade Team (1960s)
- 5x Pro Bowl (1966-68, 1970, 1972)
- First-Team All-Pro (1967), Second-Team All-Pro (1968)
- NFL Rookie of the Year (1966)
- No. 1 overall pick in 1966 NFL Draft; Mr. Falcon
Atlanta emerged as a professional sports market in the 1960s. The Braves had relocated to the growing southeastern metropolis from Milwaukee. The Hawks did the same thing after leaving St. Louis. However, it would be an expansion team in 1966 that brought the NFL to the South.
The Falcons absolutely crushed their first overall pick as a franchise by taking future College Football Hall of Fame linebacker Tommy Nobis out of the University of Texas. Right from the jump, Nobis was known as “Mr. Falcon” as the face of the struggling NFL expansion franchise. Though he never played in a postseason game in Atlanta, he is revered over 40 years later after his retirement from the game.
Nobis was exactly what you would hope for with a middle linebacker. He was a relentless competitor who played through the whistle, wrapping up every ball carrier that would come his way. This led to him being an immediate impact player as a rookie in 1966.
Nobis was named NFL Rookie of the Year and made his first of five career trips to the Pro Bowl. He would be an All-Pro in his second and third seasons in the league. His three Pro Bowls in his first three seasons helped Nobis make the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1960s.
No, Nobis wasn’t without hiccups along the way in his Falcons career. He missed a good bit of the 1969 and 1971 NFL seasons due to injury. He still managed to make his fifth and final trip to the Pro Bowl in 1972 after undergoing two knee surgeries. Keep in mind that medicine wasn’t as far along as it is today.
After the 1976 NFL season, Nobis decided to hang up the spikes. Just one year later would be the arrival of Grits Blitz. Two years later saw the Falcons make the NFC playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Nobis remains one of the very best football players to have never reached the postseason in his career.
In 2004, Nobis was one of the first four Falcons inducted into the Ring of Honor. Joining him were running back William Andrews, quarterback Steve Bartkowski and linebacker Jessie Tuggle. While he did achieve enshrinement in the College Football Hall of Fame for his brilliant career at Texas, Canton still evades Mr. Falcon.
If Nobis is to ever be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it would have to be posthumously. Nobis passed away from an extended illness on December 13, 2017 at the age of 74 in Marietta, Georgia. Simply put, it’s a shame that Nobis didn’t get to deliver a Pro Football Hall of Fame speech in his lifetime.